Kerim drew attention to this link by posting to our wall. My reply follows here as well as there:

I boiled down the link's claims and came up with this list:

1. Ning are going to direct email all members.
2. The new ning.com site will combine all member information.
3. Ning could create a pyramid scam exploiting the work of network
creators.
4. Shouldn’t Ning pay creators for their work rather than other way
round?
5. Widget Laboratory was excluded for anti-competitive reasons.
6. Ning banned access to all PHP files.
7. Ning shut down creator forum and censors critical posts.
8. They banned some but not all porn.
9. Ning changed its slogan, removing ‘anything’ and changed it again.
10. Members get spammed to join other sites.
11. Ning will fail by trying to be MySpace or Facebook.
12. Ning has been erratic, compromised clients and eroded members’
trust.
13. Ning inflates its numbers.
14. We need a network creators’ bill of rights.

I would like to know first which of the above constitute a significant
threat to the OAC. I know the Admins differ in their attitude to Ning.
So I guess this would be a good place to have the discussion.


We could have this discussion on the main Forum, but I respect Kerim's choice in placing it here.

Views: 132

Replies to This Discussion

Kerim, thanks for sharing this, and Keith, thanks for narrowing it down. Here are my 2 cents.

It is worth noting first that the information in this long list of complaints is out of date (over 1 year old), and therefore irrelevant in parts. I’ll start with my conclusions first, before addressing each issue specifically.

Ning, like every other site/service, has its limitations. The benefits are that it’s free and easy-to-use. The site is virtually never down. Spam is pretty limited, and every time I report it to them I receive a positive acknowledgement. Negative aspects: the standard site design is a little inflexible. Plus, I have never felt comfortable with Ning having so much control over our data (we can’t back it up). But other than that, I don’t think the criticisms impact us greatly – other than on principle. Moreover, I have yet to find an equally simple solution to the aforementioned issues in an alternative to Ning (e.g. SocialGo) other than creating our own site from scratch. Ning is easy for newbies to join, relatively low-maintenance for admins, and with enough customization to allow further expansion.

In short, the only significant threat to the OAC is that Ning holds our data hostage. I can also confirm that they shut down a third-party tool which allowed data extraction. Rumour has it, though, that if you explain to Ning that you’d like to jump ship and take your network with you, they will relinquish your files so you that can import them to a new server. I have no personal confirmation of this, I just read it on the internet … so it must be true.

1. Ning are going to direct email all members. //I’ve never received any emails like this that I can recall.

2. The new ning.com site will combine all member information. //Pre-dates the OAC. All members who sign up to the OAC automatically become members of Ning.com. If they want to un-join the OAC, they still have to delete their Ning ID as well to remove themselves from Ning altogether. IMO, if they didn’t have to be a member of Ning.com to join the OAC, our ability to reduce repeat spam would also be impaired.

3. Ning could create a pyramid scam exploiting the work of network creators. //As persuasive as the diagram illustrating this is, I’m not even clear on the root of this argument. What’s being exploited and by whom?

4. Shouldn’t Ning pay creators for their work rather than other way round? //Shouldn’t universities pay doctoral students to write their PhDs rather than the other way around?

5. Widget Laboratory was excluded for anti-competitive reasons. //Pre-dates the OAC. There is still a pile of dumb widgets we could add if we wanted to, they just go through Ning’s own proprietary links or partner developers. I don’t need an OAC version of Farmville, anyway.

6. Ning banned access to all PHP files. //Pre-dates the OAC. This is admittedly a pain, but I think paying for premium access allows you to edit PHP.

7. Ning shut down creator forum and censors critical posts. //That’s dodgy, cheap and crappy. Shame on you, Ning. However, from what I can tell, after the forum was (temporarily) shut down, many network creators began voicing their opinions on Get Satisfaction. Now they do so here: http://creators.ning.com/ (the new creators forum). The OAC admins make use of this forum on occasion. A bigger issue here only arises when Ning does not take member complaints seriously and improvements to networks stagnate. Still, Ning has made a few updates recently on improving things like spam removal and member moderation. So maybe they are turning over a new leaf.

8. They banned some but not all porn. //Hey there, welcome to the internet. Remind me of this again when salacious ethnography begins swamping our forums.

9. Ning changed its slogan, removing ‘anything’ and changed it again. //Who cares?

10. Members get spammed to join other sites. //?? Anyone here been affected by this?

11. Ning will fail by trying to be MySpace or Facebook. //a. Is it even aiming for this? It’s actually the polar opposite of Facebook by letting individuals create their own self-contained networks. b. Will this really bring Ning down?

12. Ning has been erratic, compromised clients and eroded members’ trust. //I have often written to Ning with queries, to which they have responded cordially and in a maximum of ~3 days. About 4 out of 5 times their solution is straightforward and helpful; the rest of the time the site's inflexibility means there’s nothing they can/will do in the immediate future. Most of these issues are technical. Maybe if we were with Ning since 2008 when they had just launched, we’d feel our “trust” had been eroded or compromised during some rough patches. As we know from experience, sometimes it takes time to get it right and there is no pleasing everyone.

13. Ning inflates its numbers. //Probably true, but still an erroneous conclusion. In the list of three possibilities by which the disgruntled Ning-hater arrives at “Ning is inflating their numbers”, I think #2 was more likely ("2.98% of social network creators never sign up to use the website dedicated for them"). That anyone on the web can create a Ning network means that at least 95% of network creators who remember their password won’t even know they’re a network creator, let alone that there’s a forum available.

14. We need a network creators’ bill of rights. //Ratified by whom? Some people have too much time on their hands.
I read through the story to which Kerim linked, and also many of the comments. Clearly, there are a lot of unhappy people, particularly among those who pay for the service.

I would like to point out that this story (and nearly all of the comments) appeared in March of 2009, well before we launched this network. And since that time, events have overtaken some the problems documented in the article. For example, item #7 is clearly not true any longer-- the Ning Creators network is up and looks healthy.

As for assessing the threat level of each issue to OAC:

Items that seem irrelevant to the OAC (to me): #2, #3, #4, #5, #8, #9, #11, #13.

Items that affect us, but that we have been living with: #6, #12


Items that if true, could affect OAC by driving members away:

#1 Ning are going to direct mail all members. Have we seen this? I received an email from Ning announcing the re-launch of the new Ning.com main site, but that's because I'm a network creator. If this does come true, it may annoy people and cause them to leave the OAC.

#10 Members get spammed to join other sites. This would be pretty annoying, but again I haven't seen this. Has anyone else experienced this?


So, from the OAC point of view, I don't see that any of the issues raised in the article from last year are a large threat to the functioning of the OAC on Ning. The biggest problem we continue to experience is the large number of accounts created simply to spam our users directly.

[Sorry if any of this is redundant with Fran's post-- I wrote mine right after Keith started the thread, and for got to hit "Add Reply" until now.]
Good to see we are on the same page ...

I agree that spamming is problematic, but I still feel that it is fairly low and I have trouble blaming Ning given the nature of the internet. It is more the price we pay for keeping membership open and unmoderated. If we approved each new member by hand, the spam would probably disappear.

Paul Wren said:
I read through the story to which Kerim linked, and also many of the comments. Clearly, there are a lot of unhappy people, particularly among those who pay for the service.
Francine Barone said:
Good to see we are on the same page ...

I'll drink to that. Justin has said he broadly agrees with what Fran said. So that makes all four of us in the Admins team. Consensus is bliss.
As Keith noted, my own position is not much different than Fran's. Ning has its limitations, most notably taking our data (discussions, etc) hostage which I hope might change in the near future (so that we could migrate if need be). But at the moment I do not see any reason for us to move. If at some point in the future we do decide that we should migrate, it is good to know that there are some pretty good self-hosted alternatives such as BuddyPress.

Agreed, consensus is bliss!
Thank you for looking at this and taking the time to summarize it here. Personally, I'm pretty tolerant of these kinds of things. But then I live my life quite openly online and don't have much in the way of expectations about privacy. However, for some members of OAC these might be serious issues, and it is good to have an open discussion about them.

More troubling to me is the fact that Ning seems to be poorly managed, and there seems to be a high degree of lock-in to the system. That is, OAC could not easily migrate its data elsewhere if something happened to Ning, or there was a decision to leave Ning for other reasons (perhaps related to the issues listed above). It might be good to have a strategy in place for such an eventuality.
Somehow I didn't see the replies when I posted that. This comment by Francine seems to capture what I was trying to say: "the only significant threat to the OAC is that Ning holds our data hostage."
Thanks, Kerim. We are concerned about having an exit strategy in place. This is something that Justin in particular is looking into.

Kerim Friedman said:
Thank you for looking at this and taking the time to summarize it here. Personally, I'm pretty tolerant of these kinds of things. But then I live my life quite openly online and don't have much in the way of expectations about privacy. However, for some members of OAC these might be serious issues, and it is good to have an open discussion about them.
More troubling to me is the fact that Ning seems to be poorly managed, and there seems to be a high degree of lock-in to the system. That is, OAC could not easily migrate its data elsewhere if something happened to Ning, or there was a decision to leave Ning for other reasons (perhaps related to the issues listed above). It might be good to have a strategy in place for such an eventuality.
With the changes in Ning's own policies, it sounds like this topic is to be reopened. This is exactly the situation in which data portability seems essential. I thought Ning had undertaken some procedures to open up some user data to facilitate migration (as through Google's Open Social initiative). Maybe it's not the case. But it sounds like at least some Ning data can be imported into a BuddyPress installation.
Looks like we will need an exit strategy in place sooner rather than later!!!

http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2010/04/ning-fails-at-free-social-ne...

Ning Fails at Free Social Networking

By Eliot Van Buskirk April 16, 2010 | 1:58 pm | Categories: Social Media, Startups

Ning co-founder Marc Andreessen promised Ning network creators they would be able to port their networks elsewhere. Now, they may have good reason to do so.

Ning, a brainchild of Netscape bazillionaire Marc Andreessen that was designed to let anyone make a social network about anything for free, won’t do it anymore. Each of the service’s 2.3 million networks users will disappear unless its creator either pays Ning or migrate the network to another platform.

So much for “free” as the future of business — as far as Ning goes, anyway. The company accepted hundreds of millions of dollars from investors, and they apparently want more of a return than Ning is able to provide as a free service.

“Our premium Ning networks like Friends or Enemies, Linkin Park, Shred or Die, Pickens Plan, and tens of thousands of others … drive 75 percent of our monthly U.S. traffic, and those network creators need and will pay for many more services and features from us,” wrote Ning CEO Jason Rosenthal in an e-mail to his 40-percent-reduced employees this week:

We are going to change our strategy to devote 100 percent of our resources to building the winning product to capture this big opportunity. We will phase out our free service. Existing free networks will have the opportunity to either convert to paying for premium services, or transition off of Ning.

The service’s premium offerings include faster access to Ning’s support staff ($10 or $100 per month, depending on responsiveness), custom domain names ($5 per month), additional storage and bandwidth ($10 per month), removal of ads with the option to embed your own ($25 per month), and getting rid of the link at the bottom of every page that asks users to create their own social networks ($25 per month).

The ability to roll your own social network has a powerful allure, and Ning’s conversion into a paid-only service could open the door for a free competitor to enter the space — perhaps without accepting the $120 million or so in reported investment that almost certainly pressured Ning to try to extract more money from its users.

Once again — see Tripod, Imeem, etc. — users of a web service have had the rules switched on them once they began relying on a service. That’s why it’s important to choose web services that offer an easy way to grab your stuff and split — a feature commonly known as “data portability.” Luckily for Ning users who don’t want to pay up, co-founder Andreesson has promised that the company offers easy escape routes.

“We are very pro–data portability,” Andreessen told John Batelle of Federated Media back in 2008. “[Users] have lots of ways to get data in and out of the system. There is not a lot of demand for this yet, from either consumers or developers.”

There will be now. The only question is … where will they go? Options include Group.ly, Grou.ps (which promises it “will always remain free”), Kickapps and the open-source Ruby-on-Rails platform insoshi.

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